(Repeats without changes from Friday)
* Little new damage apparent at Es Sider and Ras Lanuf
* Eastern-based LNA lost control of ports for 11 days
By Ayman al-Warfalli
RAS LANUF, Libya, March 17 A broken down truck
and a tank lie by the side of the road in the sand, and
overturned boxes are strewn across the floor of a firefighting
Otherwise, Libya's coastal Oil Crescent appears much as it
did before a string of battles saw the eastern-based Libyan
National Army (LNA) lose and retake the major export terminals
of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider in the space of 11 days.
The fighting with the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) caused
output to dip slightly, and fuelled fears of fresh shutdowns in
Libya's most important oil producing region.
But workers are gradually returning to the oil facilities
which officials say show little sign of damage beyond what was
wrought in previous rounds of fighting.
Military checkpoints have sprung up again, and shops,
mosques and petrol stations have reopened. The LNA says it is
once more fully in control.
Es Sider and Ras Lanuf are two of Libya's largest terminals.
They have a potential combined capacity of some 600,000 barrels
per day (bpd), but have been operating at a fraction of normal
levels after being repeatedly fought over and blockaded for two
Reuters reporters saw a heavy military presence at Es Sider,
the westernmost of the ports, during a visit on Thursday, just
two days after the LNA recaptured it.
"The port has not suffered damage that would hinder exports,
just some stealing," said an engineer at Es Sider. "About 30
workers have returned to the port, though we have not started
export operations yet."
At the Harouge oil storage tank farm in Ras Lanuf, about 30
km (18 miles) east of Es Sider, a group of soldiers with five
military vehicles stood guard.
"There were clashes around the tanks, they didn't last
long," said Alaa Gaddafi, an LNA commander stationed there.
"Some of them escaped and we found some dead. We got control of
the tanks after about 10 minutes. There was no new damage to the
tanks, the damage is from before."
The LNA and its leader Khalifa Haftar say they are working
to rid Libya of Islamist extremism and militia rule. They have
gradually extended their control over most parts of eastern
The BDB is partly made up of fighters who battled the LNA in
Benghazi. They draw on support from Haftar's opponents in
western Libya, and say they are fighting to prevent a return to
authoritarian rule and to allow displaced families to go back to
The attack on the Oil Crescent by the BDB on March 3 took
the LNA by surprise, exposing previous claims to have the area
Its loss of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, and the BDB's promise to
push northeast towards Benghazi, raised the prospect of an
escalation in a simmering conflict between loose armed alliances
based in the east and west of the country.
It also put at risk a partial revival of Libya's oil
production, throwing into doubt a fragile arrangement by which
the LNA allowed the National Oil Corporation (NOC) in Tripoli to
operate the ports, even whilst allowing revenues to go to a
central bank that it opposes.
National output more than doubled after the LNA took control
of all four of the Oil Crescent's ports last September, allowing
the NOC to reopen three of them. During this month's clashes it
dropped by about 100,000 bpd.
The LNA maintained control of Brega and Zueitina, two ports
that lie to northeast of Ras Lanuf, as the BDB advanced. And
after massing its forces between Brega and Ras Lanuf, and
carrying out daily air strikes against its rivals, it took back
both those terminals in a single day.
"They had no air cover and were in open land, they were on
land they did not know, a land which to them was hostile," said
Mohamed Manfour, commander of Benghazi's Benina air base,
speaking in Brega
The BDB says it will regroup and that its campaign to reach
Benghazi will continue.
The depth of local support for either side in the Oil
Crescent remains unclear. Local backing is often won by offers
of financial support and tribal pledges that can quickly shift.
Both sides accuse the other of using mercenaries from southern
Libya and sub-Saharan states across the border, and of carrying
(Writing by Aidan Lewis Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)